Since its first dispensaries were opened three years ago, Whatcom County’s cannabis industry has steadily grown, with 24 retailers and 65 producers now in business and retail cannabis sales rising by over $10 million each fiscal year.
From 2015 to 2016 alone, the total revenue for cannabis in Whatcom County nearly tripled, increasing from $11.45 million to $30.68 million, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Since 2014, the marijuana industry in Whatcom County has generated a total of $79 million from retail, processor and producer sales, according to 502 Data, which tracks retail marijuana sales and taxations in Washington state. As a result, cannabis has generated over $14 million in sales tax revenue.
Bellingham dispensary 2020 Solutions, with locations on Guide Meridian, Iron Street and Pacific Highway, is the current leading marijuana retail company in Bellingham, reaching $8.4 million in total sales and $3.1 million in excise tax since their opening in 2014. The leading local producer and processor is Clandestine Consulting with $3.5 million in sales since opening in 2015, according to 502 Data.
Aaron Nelson, vice president of 2020 Solutions, said the rise in cannabis sales may not be due solely to an increase in popularity.
“Many people did not all of a sudden start smoking pot once it became legal,” Nelson said. “They were already consuming it on their own through various channels, and now that it is heavily taxed and regulated, there is more visibility to how much consumption there actually is.”
Along with the possibility of legal trouble from acquiring cannabis under-the-table, Nelson said other attractive factors of buying from retail stores include availability, with set store hours as opposed to coordinating a schedule with a dealer, and reliance on accuracy and quality of products, instead of receiving an unmarked bag of an unverifiable substance.
“Many people did not all of a sudden start smoking pot once it became legal. They were already consuming it on their own through various channels, and now that it is heavily taxed and regulated, there is more visibility to how much consumption there actually is.”
Aaron Nelson, Vice President of 2020 Solutions
Top Shelf was the first cannabis retailer to open in Whatcom County. It also had first cannabis sale in the entire state of Washington, on July 8, 2014.
The Western Bud, one of the newest cannabis dispensaries in Bellingham, opened in February of this year. It is located off Iowa Street in Bellingham, and has two other locations in Anacortes and Sedro Woolley. With only five months on file for sale records, it has already made $383,057 worth of sales and generated $141,731 in excise taxes, according to 502 Data.
The broadening of the industry is beneficial to both retailers and customers. With more cannabis producers available, diversity of products increases while pricing decreases, Nelson said.
“When we opened, we had an eighth that we were selling for $95. In the store today, we have an eighth that sells for $14 or $15,” Nelson said. “Three years ago there was just a handful of growers who were ready to sell product, and now there is over one thousand.”
Another enticing aspect of cannabis is the versatility of use, Jessica Osborne, a budtender at the Western Bud said, from ointments for the body that relieve sore spots, to smokable cannabis that helps with insomnia.
“There’s not just one product that’s going to help everybody or solve everything. There’s a lot of strains, a lot of products, and a lot of people are now more apt to come in and give it a try,” Osborne said.
Western student Jessica Todd described views of marijuana within student culture.
“I think since [weed] has been legalized, more people are definitely talking about it and it’s becoming more of a public issue versus something we sweep under the rug.”
In fiscal year 2016, Whatcom County had the eighth highest total revenue from cannabis sales in Washington state.
However, in the same year, Whatcom County came in third in in terms of sales per capita, according to census data. Spokane came in first, followed by Thurston County.